A house in decline

Calke Abbey in Derbyshire has the sense of a place that was once a hive of activity, but that has since diminished almost to the point of being on the verge of collapse in places. What’s more it’s kept that way deliberately by the National Trust, repaired but not restored. As such, it has the feel of a place that has been little touched in over a century and it is a veritable photographic gold mine as you walk from the ground floor to the upper floor moving progressively from dishevelment to decay.

It’s certainly not without a photographic challenge or two, mainly light levels! Even with the high ISO abilities of modern digital cameras finding enough light can be extremely difficult, particularly in some of the long dark corridors in its East wing. Tripods are not an option so fast lenses and image stabilisation are your best friend.

However, find a window in one of the many small rooms and almost inevitably there will be something worth photographing. This really is a place to photograph details, the dilapidated state of the upstairs rooms being particularly photogenic, some piled with items, though the huge collection of taxidermy is probably not to everyone’s taste, but it is a reflection of 19th century values.

The quirkiness of the place is a constant source of inspiration, and occasional humour – I recall the look of disappointment on a fellow visitor’s face who had rather impolitely forced his way past me, presumably thinking I was photographing a particularly interesting object, only to discover all there was to see was a broken glass bottle and rusting lantern. Still, I liked it!

Light, while hard to find at times, does seep through the shuttered windows and every now and then falls on an exquisite piece of furniture or one of the many hundreds of objects that litter the house or something left abandoned many, many years ago.